Nearly a week after the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office referred manslaughter and animal cruelty charges against two suspects in the death of Aron Christensen and his dog to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office, the prosecutor’s office confirmed Wednesday it has returned the case to the sheriff’s office for further investigation.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office confirmed Wednesday morning it has received the case back from the prosecutor’s office with instructions to complete a followup investigation.
“Some of the items (to complete) were the previously-alluded-to forensic testing we were awaiting,” the spokesperson told The Chronicle.
The sheriff’s office referred charges against the two suspects, Ethan Michael Asbach, 20, of Tenino, and an unnamed 17-year-old female from Rochester, after the Lewis County Coroner’s Office received the results of testing that confirmed Christensen, 49, of Portland, died of a gunshot wound to the chest.
According to a news release from the sheriff’s office, Asbach and the 17-year-old were hiking from Walupt Lake Trailhead to Sheep Lake Campground the night before Christensen’s body and that of his dog, Buzzo, were found in August.
“While hiking on the trail, both individuals stated they heard growling noises and saw the eyes of what they believed to be a wild animal. Mr. Asbach stated out of fear he fired a single projectile from a firearm towards the animal. A short time later, the two advised they checked the area and located a deceased male and a dog. The two stated they continued to hike, but took the wrong path. They then exited the woods the next day,” stated the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office responded to a report of a deceased male — who was later identified as Aron Christensen, 49, of Portland — and his dog, Buzzo, on the 101 trail 3 to 4 miles away from Walupt Lake just after 3:55 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20.
The next day, on Aug. 21, a family member of Asbach contacted the sheriff’s office “advising they had possible information on an incident at Walupt Lake,” according to the sheriff’s office. During subsequent investigation and interviews, the sheriff’s office learned Asbach and the 17-year-old’s account of the shooting.
In addition to the autopsy conducted on Aug. 26 and the necropsy conducted on Aug. 31, there is still ongoing investigation and forensic testing being conducted, according to the sheriff’s office, which stated, “Additional details are currently being withheld during this time to maintain the integrity of the investigation.”
Christensen’s family and friends have been critical of the investigation by the Lewis County Sheriff's Office and coroner, citing a lack of information over the two months between the initial incident and the coroner’s news release last Thursday morning.
The family released a statement Tuesday evening relaying their frustration with the prosecutor’s decision to refer the case back to the sheriff’s office:
“Our family continues to be frustrated with the lack of communication from the Lewis County authorities. On Thursday, Oct. 27, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office released a statement reporting that they had sent the case to the prosecutor's office because Aron Christensen’s manner of death was ruled a homicide. As of this afternoon, Nov. 1, 2022, five days later, there have still not been any arrests made or charges filed. Today we learned that the prosecutor’s office has referred the case back to the sheriff’s office for further investigation. Our son, brother, uncle, and friend was shot while hiking the Walupt trail with his four-month-old puppy, Buzzo, on Aug. 19, 2022. The person who shot him has confessed to the crime. His 17-year-old girlfriend was also present when he killed Aron and Buzzo. According to the sheriff, they admitted that they knew both Aron and Buzzo were dead; still, they left them dead on the trail and ‘continued hiking.’ Two days passed after the event before a family member of the shooter notified the sheriff of the incident. The Lewis County sheriff knows who killed Aron and Buzzo, and the Lewis County coroner confirmed that Aron died of a gunshot wound to the chest; still, we are left wondering why there have not been any arrests. We are confused, disheartened, and exasperated by how this case is being handled and fully believe that by now, over 74 days after Aron was killed, at a minimum, an arrest should be made. We are grateful and appreciative of the continued overwhelming support and kindness that our family has received from people across the country. We hope to press for the truth, gain closure, foster healing, and find justice for Aron and Buzz. If you have any information that would be helpful in this case, please let us know.”
A friend of Christensen’s, Alex Steininger, recently recounted to The Chronicle the last time he saw Christensen before that fateful camping trip.
Christensen had come home from work early to pack while Steininger was watching Buzzo.
“I once told Buzzo, in front of my dog, that Buzzo was the cutest dog ever … Buzzo was my little buddy who always peed on me,” he said of Christensen’s dog, adding that, likely due to excitement, the puppy would pee on Steininger every time they got together.
Steininger prepared to leave as soon as Christensen got home, but Christensen invited him to hang out.
“I'm so glad I didn't leave. I'm so glad I hung out with him. For about an hour. It would be the last time we saw each other,” said Steininger.
When Christensen’s roommate broke the news that Christensen was dead, Steininger said he and some of Christensen’s other friends gathered together “and just sat there crying in disbelief, shock. Then it got worse when we found out he was shot.”
He added, “All we want is justice for Aron and Buzzo.”